As we learned in Gibralter earlier this year, sometimes a weird bit of geography – the long, thin extension of Namibia that stretches out between Angola and Botswana through to Zambia and Zimbabwe – is formed when competing governments are horse-trading land. This happened here in Namibia, too – over what became known as the “Caprivi Strip” (recently renamed the Zambezi region). However, history makes some sense of it.
Leo von Caprivi (pictured right) was the German politician who succeeded Bismarck as chancellor in 1890. He struck a deal with Britain, trading the islands of Zanzibar for Heligoland, a group of islands just northwest of Hamburg. The Germans stipulated that they wanted this little strip of land all the way down in southern Africa because it leads to the Zambezi River which they thought would give them access to the Indian Ocean. Were they fooled! Either they didn’t look at a map or visit the area or even consult with anyone local, because a little thing now called Victoria Falls make the Zambezi River completely unnavigable. Bismarck huffed that the Heligoland trade had been a bust, and that Germany had traded away its entire “trousers for a button.”
Whether a strip, or a button, the Caprizi strip makes a nice path for tourists to the Falls.
Looking at this pastoral, lovely countryside, it is hard to imagine that civil war raged here in the 1990’s as a local rebel group, the Caprivi Liberation Army, tried to secede from Namibia. Life in Africa is complicated, and it is unclear whether this war was the result of side-taking during the war in nearby Congo or a carryover from the Angolan war and the seeds of socialism left by the likes of Che Guevera.
Brendan van Son is a travel blogger more intrepid than I. Riding his motorbike across Africa, he describes his afternoon on the Caprivi Strip this way:
“While driving through Bwabwata National Park, I see a herd
of elephants browsing through the shrubs in the distance. I
stop, pull out my camera gear and photograph the scene in
awe. As I pack up my equipment, I hear shuffling behind me.
I twist my head to see a large male elephant walking briskly
towards me. I race to my scooter and jump on. I’ve left her
running just in case something were to come up; elephants,
zebra, antelope and even lions that can be found along the
strip. I twist the throttle and toss my head over my shoulder
to see the big elephant is now chasing me down the highway
at full speed. I’ve learned a couple things today. My scooter
can outrun a male elephant – though just barely. I drive off
again laughing hysterically. Oh, the adventures I have!“
I’d say he was lucky that elephant wasn’t an ostrich or a leopard, or he might have been in real trouble!
The abundant rivers and water make this a green, lovely and productive agricultural area and we we saw small, traditional villages.
We drove here on paved Hwy B8 then turned south on asphalt. Eventually we veered east again and drove along a sand path. Every lodge we have come to has involved a road so rough you were sure you were going to sketchy accommdoations, and then you marvel at the beautiful lodge and wonder how it can possibly be provisioned. This time, we arrived at a beautiful jungly lodge on the Okahongo River. We sat on the deck over the River and almost immediately spotted the eyes of hippos in the river and the lodge posts this sign because sometimes the hippos come up at night and eat all of the vegetation on the property.
We went on a stunning game drive this afternoon in the beautiful riverside Mahango Park. Skulls of the animals in the park were on display at the entrance and we were to see many of the living versions.
Puffs of clouds hung on the sky and there were beautiful vistas at every turn and we saw a magnificent Baobob tree (for context one of our group stood in front of it).
Mammals and a Reptile
We saw lots of animals, many of them new to us, some of them the most spectular in Africa:
– The Nam Buffalo (known as “Cape Buffalo” to South Africans).
– Hippos, including a mother and child:
– the Crocodile
We saw many of the ugly cute Warthogs along the water.
We saw new ungulates, in order, the Common Antelope, Roan, Tsetseba and Sable:
We saw Baboons and the Mervet Monkey. The baby had a little nursing then went into the shrubs to play.
Giraffes, Zebras and Elephants also appeared. We are in Elephant territory now.
– Violet-Breasted Roller
– Little Bee Eater
– Swainson’s Spurfowl
– The enormous Spare-winged Goose
– Goliath Heron (the largest heron in Africa (see how it dwarfs the ordinary heron next photo)
– Grey Heron
– Cape Vulture
This morning we had seen the Hammer Cock Bird, here we saw its enormous nest which is the nest for life of a pair of Hammer Cock Birds, and we saw the Jesus Bird.
A lightning storm hung over the sky – it was raining somewhere!
Our drive ended with a spectacular sunset.
PS. No hippos at the lodge overnight!